LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 24: Drew Doughty (L) #8 and Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrate Kopitar’s third period goal against the Minnesota Wild at Staples Center on February 24, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings defeated the Wild 4-2. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
For the first time since the season opener the Los Angeles Kings are going to have starting goaltender Jonathan Quick in their lineup on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Anaheim Ducks.
Quick, who has played just 20 minutes of hockey this season, has been out of the lineup since Oct. 12 due to a groin injury. The team activated him from injured reserve on Saturday before the game.
In his absence the Kings had to rely on Peter Budaj to carry the load, and he did a pretty admirable job with a .917 save percentage (the best performance of his career) in 53 appearances. Keep in mind that Quick’s save percentage the past four seasons has been .914.
While Quick’s absence seemed like it could have been a big deal at the start of the year, the biggest factor in the Kings’ disappointing season has been on the offensive side, especially in recent weeks as the team’s goal scoring woes have seemingly hit rock bottom. In their past nine games the Kings have managed just 15 goals, and that includes one game where they scored six. Simple math says they scored only nine goals in the other eight games. Not great. They were also shutout three times during that stretch.
Even if Quick is the Kings’ best goalie, and even if he returns to the lineup and plays extremely well down the stretch, it is not going to make much of a difference if the offense continues to score at that sort of abysmal level.
The Kings enter Saturday’s game five points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers take their long-time rivalry outside on Saturday night it will be Matt Murray and Michael Neuvirth getting the starts in goal for the teams.
For the Penguins, Murray getting the start is no shock at this point since he has clearly taken over the No. 1 job, starting 14 of the past 17 games the Penguins have played and currently owning some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league this season. His .925 save percentage that is currently fifth best in the NHL while his .935 save percentage during even-strength situations is tied for second best.
He has allowed just 10 goals in his past six starts.
The Penguins’ goaltending situation is still going to be one worth watching over the next couple of days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. With Murray as the guy in net trade speculation surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up, and even though general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this week that he would prefer to keep Fleury, he mentioned on Friday that a decision resulting his short-term future will be made in the 24-48 hours leading up to the deadline.
Meanwhile, on the Philadelphia side, it will be Neuvirth getting another start as he tries to shake off the rust he has shown since returning to the lineup from an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. Since returning he has just an .894 save percentage in eight starts, continuing what has been an overall disappointing season for him in net.
He faced the Penguins earlier this season in a 5-4 loss, giving up two goals on 12 shots in relief of starter Steve Mason.
Elsewhere on Saturday…
— Phillip Grubauer gets the call for the Washington Capitals when they visit the Nashville Predators and try to prevent Filip Forsberg from recording yet another hat trick. No word yet on who is starting for the Predators.
— Huge game in Toronto when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings with the Maple Leafs facing off against a Canadiens team they trail by only four points. It will be a Carey Price vs. Frederik Anderson goalie matchup.
The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.
Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.
Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.
Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.
After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.
Just about the only downside to the Chicago Blackhawks’ latest win, a 6-3 dismantling of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, was the injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
He ended up leaving the game after taking just four shifts in the first period and did not return.
Along with missing almost all of that game, he will also be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Blackhawks look to continue their recent hot streak when they host the St. Louis Blues.
In 60 games this season Hjalmarsson has five goals and nine assists while mostly playing alongside Duncan Keith. On Thursday the Blackhawks had seven defensemen in the lineup and relied on Michal Rozsival to fill some of the minutes left vacated by Hjalmarsson. He ended up scoring his first goal of the season in the win.
The Blackhawks have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning eight of their past nine games and scoring at least four goals in every win during that stretch.
They will miss Hjalmarsson on Sunday, but it seems to only be a short-term issue.